Refusing to step down: Zimbabwe's beleaguered 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe

Tshwane - Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa said on Monday their dismay at hearing President Robert Mugabe's defiant televised speech in which he poured cold water on all hopes he would resign, was such that many went to bed hungry.

“I was really hurt and failed to take my dinner, and so were most of my family members and other comrades. I understand, many were very confident and waiting for the right hour to ‘wine and dine’ as we bade farewell to the old man," Janet Munakamwe of the African Diaspora Workers Network said in Pretoria.

"Unfortunately, all was in vain and it seems we are back to square one in light of the old man's claim that he is ready to preside over the forthcoming December election [at Zanu PF's conference]. Our only hope for now is a united front led by the masses … back to basics.”  

But Munakamwe said she was not totally surprised that the man who has ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, signalled his intention to cling on to power.

“Taking into account the euphoria that was elicited by the masses on Saturday, including yesterday [Sunday] after the announcement of the decision by the Zanu PF structures, and Mugabe’s indifference in front of the public broadcaster and that winding nostalgic speech as if nothing had happened, personally, I was not so surprised and knew that the man was going nowhere.” 

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Early on Monday, Zimbabweans were going to work as usual, schoolchildren were in class, vendors on the streets and taxis running “as normal” in the capital Harare. 

Dejection seized Zimbabweans based in Gauteng, the economic hub of South Africa which many now call home after fleeing economic meltdown, political violence and unemployment. 

A crowd of Zimbabweans marched to the Union Buildings, which houses President Jacob Zuma’s offices in Pretoria on Saturday, demanding Mugabe’s ouster in the wake of a military take-over and mass protests in Zimbabwe.

Pretoria businessman Given Masanidze said after the “successful protests”, Mugabe’s speech on Sunday evening came as a shock. 

“I was totally disappointed with that speech. I was expecting the president to resign following the calls by the masses of our people, and the Zimbabwe Defence Forces and the war veterans. For me, the speech felt like I was hearing news about the death of a family member,” said Masanidze. 

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The opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s South Africa branch vowed to increase pressure on Mugabe to vacate State House in Harare. 

“We will continue mobilising for Mugabe to step down. We will fight Zanu PF and any of its leaders because they are part of the oppressive system which denied Zimbabweans freedom, democracy and economic development. Be it G40 or Lacoste [factions], Zanu PF must go,” said the organising secretary Trust Ndlovu. 

Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF, on Sunday said it had “recalled” the ageing leader and warned that if he failed to resign by Monday noon they would start an impeachment process. The deadline came and went with no sign of compliance from Mugabe.

In the capital, the army tanks that rolled into the city a week ago were still placed strategically at Mugabe’s office and other key government institutions, a clear indication that the standoff is far from over.